Changer de langue :

24 October

with the patronage of

Photograph credits for the section "The universe of Charles Ratton..."

(1) © Musée du Quai Branly, photograph Hughes Dubois.

(2, 4, 5, 6 and 10) © musée du quai Branly, photograph Claude Germain.

(3) © musée du quai Branly, photograph Patrick Gries.

(8, 9) © Société française de photographie.

(4, 7 and 10) Former Charles Ratton collection. Guy Ladrière, Paris.

 

 

Charles Ratton, the invention of the "Primitive" Arts

Affiche de l'exposition "Charles Ratton, l'invention des arts "primitifs"" - Click to enlarge, open in a new window

from tuesday 25 june to sunday 22 september 2013

  • East mezzanine
  • Collections ticket

curator

  • Philippe Dagen, art historian and Professor of the history of contemporary art at the University of Paris 1 - Panthéon Sorbonne

scientific advisor

  • Maureen Murphy, senior lecturer at the University of Paris 1 - Panthéon Sorbonne

around the exhibition

visits, catalogue and events related to the exhibition

Bande-annonce de l'exposition

About the exhibition

This exhibition gives an opportunity to highlight the view of Charles Ratton, an expert, dealer and collector who changed the history of the way “primitive” art was received, by promoting objects which moved away from the taste for “negro” art that had prevailed up to that time.

His close involvement in the museum world and his scientific curiosity, shown in the richness of his archives, helped his expertise to flourish. His activities as an expert, and the exhibitions he organised, contributed to the shift in status of works from Africa, America and Oceania: from anthropological study objects to works of art in the 1930s, then masterpieces in the 1960s, in France but also in the United States. The portrayal of his links with the artists (the Surrealists, Dubuffet) and photography (“documentary” and artistic photography: Man Ray) helps to highlight this shift towards art and history.

Exhibition overview

Portrait de Charles Ratton, Studio Harcourt, Paris, années 1930. Archives Charles Ratton. Guy Ladrière, Paris © musée du quai Branly, photo Claude Germain. - Click to enlarge, open in a new window
Portrait of Charles Ratton, Studio Harcourt, Paris, 1930s. Charles Ratton archives. Guy Ladrière, Paris © musée du quai Branly, photograph Claude Germain.

The exhibition presents more than 200 works (sculptures, three-dimensional objects and documents such as invitation cards, posters and catalogues).

the universe of charles ratton – between curiosity and scholarship

The exhibition opens with the reconstruction of Charles Ratton's office. Created as a cabinet of curiosities, this first space presents the works of art that surrounded Charles Ratton on a daily basis in his office. This section also collects his notes and sketches that indicate his extremely accurate working method.

Objects with a variety of provenances both geographical  (the Far East, Africa, Oceania etc.) and temporal (Antiquity, Middle Ages) emphasise the diversity of his purchases, and of his links with the Surrealists, including Tristan Tzara, Roland Tual and Paul Éluard.



the surrealist dealer and activity in the united states

In the 1920s, Charles Ratton became established as the learned connoisseur of disregarded and poorly understood cultures by creating for himself the status of scholarly art dealer. He developed a network of purchasers and lenders in which wealthy amateurs rubbed shoulders with impoverished avant-garde artists and Surrealist poets.

Very quickly, Charles Ratton understood that it was not enough to be the first in Paris, but that it was necessary to be international and set out to establish himself in the United States. Finally, he employed all means of modern communication: press, photography and film.

In this section, the visitor discovers Charles Ratton through the exhibitions and sales with which he was associated both in France and in the United States.

Masque d'épaule Nimba, prêt du musée Picasso © RMN-Grand Palais / Béatrice Hatala. - Click to enlarge, open in a new window
Nimba shoulder mask, loan from the musée Picasso © RMN-Grand Palais/Béatrice Hatala.
Couple de jumeaux, population Yoruba, Nigéria, 19ème siècle. Atelier de Shaki, bois, perles, métal. Inv. 70.2003.3.7.1 et 70.2003.3.7.2 © musée du quai Branly, photo Patrick Gries, Valérie Torre - Click to enlarge, open in a new window
Pair of twins, Yoruba population, Nigeria, 19th century. Shaki workshop, wood, beads, metal. Inv. 70.2003.3.7.1 and 70.2003.3.7.2 © musée du quai Branly, photograph Patrick Gries, Valérie Torre
Sculpture Zemi, bois, Taïno, Saint-Domingue. Ancienne collection Charles Ratton. Guy Ladrière, Paris © musée du quai Branly, photo Claude Germain. - Click to enlarge, open in a new window
Zemi sculpture, wood, Taino, Santo Domingo. Former Charles Ratton collection. Guy Ladrière, Paris © musée du quai Branly, photograph Claude Germain.
Portrait de Charles Ratton, Jean Dubuffet, novrembre 1946 © musée du quai Branly, photo Claude Germain. Ancienne collection Charles Ratton. Guy Ladrière, Paris / © ADAGP, Paris 2013 - Click to enlarge, open in a new window
Portrait of Charles Ratton, Jean Dubuffet, November 1946 © musée du quai Branly, photograph Claude Germain. Former Charles Ratton collection. Guy Ladrière, Paris/© ADAGP, Paris 2013

 

charles ratton and art brut

From their encounter in 1944 until the late 1950s, Ratton and Jean Dubuffet met and corresponded often. Ratton presented Dubuffet to Pierre Matisse, who introduced him to the United States. He also acquainted him with African sculpture and showed him works created by the insane. His role was decisive in the invention of the concept of "art brut" (outsider art) and the creation of the Compagnie de l'Art Brut which he co-founded in 1948 with André Breton and Henri-Pierre Roché. He encouraged Georges Henri Rivière and one of his great collectors, Baron Eduard von der Heydt, to join.

Part of the correspondence between Charles Ratton and Jean Dubuffet is displayed in this section.

Masque, population Dan, 19-20ème siècle, Côté d'Ivoire. Bois © musée du quai Branly, photo Claude Germain. Ancienne collection Charles Ratton. Guy Ladrière, Paris. - Click to enlarge, open in a new window
Mask, Dan population, 19-20th century, Ivory Coast. Wood © musée du quai Branly, photograph Claude Germain. Former Charles Ratton collection. Guy Ladrière, Paris.

 

after the war

Charles Ratton remained at Paris during the Occupation, and following the end of the war he continued to pursue his activity as an international art dealer while re-establishing contact with the Surrealists on their return from exile in America. There, he appeared as the supreme authority on African and Oceanian art and his gallery in Rue de Marignan was visited by all of the important figures in the world of amateurs and scholars.

Despite his age and the appearance of a new generation of travelling dealers, he maintained his position in the front rank of art dealers until the 1970s, participating in the triumph but also in regularly increasing  the prices of objects that are considered more and more as masterpieces of the global inheritance.

Homme assis dont un serpent avale la tête, bois, royaume du Danhomè (?). Ancienne collection Charles Ratton. Guy Ladrière, Paris © musée du quai Branly, photo Claude Germain - Click to enlarge, open in a new window
Seated man being swallowed by a snake, wood, kingdom of Dahomey (?). Former Charles Ratton collection. Guy Ladrière, Paris © musée du quai Branly, photograph Claude Germain

 

a mystery remains

In the 1980s Charles Ratton attempted to donate the cream of his collection to the musée du Louvre. However, the institution was not to open its doors to non-Western art until 20 years later, after having refused on several occasions the proposed donations of the art dealer.

While Charles Ratton contributed to make known some aspects of non-Western artistic creation, and in particular the court arts, the nature of the relationships which he had with these works remains a mystery. Desirous of preserving the memory of each work that passed through his hands, but also of controlling its image, he photographed every object. However, there is one work that he never sold and which may offer some clues as to the links between the collector and art: this work represents a seated man, frozen into immobility while his head is swallowed by the jaws of a horned snake.

A rare work, undoubtedly produced for the European market, and which incarnates the discretion and secret of a man who wanted never to reveal anything of his life or activity. Strange and contradictory, an expression of predation and devoration, it can be interpreted as a deformed reflection of the relationship between Charles Ratton, art and the market: passionate, sometimes blinding but always controlled and emotionally charged.

Biographical notes

Affiche de la vente de la collection de Georges de Miré, 1931. Archives Charles Ratton. Guy Ladrière, Paris © musée du quai Branly, photo Claude Germain. - Click to enlarge, open in a new window
Poster for the Georges de Miré collection sale, 1931. Charles Ratton archives. Guy Ladrière, Paris © musée du quai Branly, photograph Claude Germain.

A few biographical and professional notes, including in particular the exhibitions with which Charles Ratton was associated.

1895

Charles Ratton born.

1920s

He purchases objects from Tristan Tzara, Roland Tual and Paul Éluard.
19 March 1927: Charles Ratton obtains authorisation to exercise the profession of antique dealer using his home as his gallery.

1931

French colonial ethnographic exhibition at the musée d'Ethnographie du Trocadéro.
July 1931: sale of the collections of André Breton and Paul Eluard.
December 1931: valuer for the sale of the collection of Georges de Miré.

1932

Ratton was appointed to design one of the first temporary exhibitions by the team of the future Musée de l'Homme, dedicated to the bronzes and ivories from the kingdom of Benin (now Nigeria).

1933

Sculptures and Objects exhibition at the Villa Guibert.

1935

African Negro Art exhibition, MoMA, New York.

African Sculptures from The Ratton Collection exhibition, Pierre Matisse gallery, New York.

Ancient masks and ivories from Alaska and the North West coast of America exhibition, Charles Ratton gallery.

25 October 1935: André Breton writes to Charles Ratton: "One day I must attempt to answer this question: of what is surrealist in primitive art and what is not."

Masque, embouchure du Sepik ou du Ramu, Papouasie-Nouvelle-Guinée, Océanie, début du XXe siècle. Bois, pigments ocre rouge. Ancienne collection Charles Ratton. Guy Ladrière, Paris © musée du quai Branly, photo Claude Germain. - Click to enlarge, open in a new window
Mask, mouth of the Sepik or Ramu river, Papua New Guinea, Oceania, early 20th century. Wood, red ochre pigments. Former Charles Ratton collection. Guy Ladrière, Paris © musée du quai Branly, photograph Claude Germain.

 

1936

Surrealist object exhibition, Charles Ratton gallery.

1937

Fashion in the Congo exhibition, Charles Ratton gallery.

African sculpture exhibition, Théâtre Edouard VII

1944

14 June 1944: first visit of Charles Ratton to the studio of Jean Dubuffet.

1953

Charles Ratton acts as valuer to and lends works for the film Statues also die by Alain Resnais, Chris Marker and Ghislain Cloquet. 

1957

He is the advisor on the opening of the Museum of Primitive Art in New York.

1966

Sale of the collection of Helena Rubenstein.

1980s

The dealer takes part in six "primitive" art sales in 1980, one in 1981, two in 1982 and is present in the catalogues of two sales in 1983 and 1984.

1986

Charles Ratton dies shortly before his 90th birthday.

Exhibition media partners